Indonesian Police Hunt for Pro-IS Militant Suspects after Killing 2 in Raid

Keisyah Aprilia
Palu, Indonesia
2021-07-12
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Indonesian Police Hunt for Pro-IS Militant Suspects after Killing 2 in Raid Provincial Police Inspector General of Police Abdul Rakhman Baso (front right), checks task force members preparing for an operation in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 12, 2021.
Yusuf/BenarNews

Indonesian security forces were on the hunt for three suspected members of a pro-Islamic State extremist group who escaped a raid that killed two other suspects in Central Sulawesi province over the weekend, officials said Monday.

Members of a joint military and police task force killed the two suspects – identified as Rukli and Ahmad Gazali – and who were linked to the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) group on Sunday during a gunfight in their jungle hideout in Parigi Moutong regency, provincial police spokesman Didik Supranoto said.

“Task force members are scouring the area because we suspect that the three who escaped are still hiding near the scene,” he told BenarNews, noting that the rugged terrain made the search difficult.

“The three MIT followers know the area.”

With the deaths of the two militant suspects, MIT is down to seven members, officials said.

In May, police said MIT had split into two groups in an attempt to elude authorities with one group led by Ali Kalora active in Sigi regency and the other under the leadership of a militant named Qatar operating in Poso.

At least one of three who escaped the raid may have been injured, because traces of blood were found at the scene, Didik said. Security forces also found bullets, home-made bombs, a compass and a walkie-talkie.

Brig. Gen. Farid Makruf, deputy chief of the operation to take down the militants – codenamed Madago Raya – said Sunday’s raid targeted an MIT camp. Army special forces (Kopassus) member 1st Lt. David Manurung led the raid after receiving a tip from nearby residents.

“Two MIT members were shot. Both died on the spot,” Farid told BenarNews, adding the militants returned fire but none of the troops were injured.

Transportation of the militants’ corpses to the provincial capital Palu was delayed by poor weather and rough terrain, Didik said.

“It’s still foggy up there so the retrieval can’t be done today by a helicopter. The task force is still waiting for the weather to improve before the bodies can be transported,” he said.

The camp was about 20 km (12 miles) from the nearest village, Didik said.

“People went about their activities as usual,” he said.

Muh Tardi, a local cocoa farmer, said residents talked about the shootings but there was no tension in the area.

“People gathered at the village office because they heard information about the raid and gunfight in the Tokasa mountains. There’s chatter, but no one seems to be too worried,” Tardi said.

“We hope that the operation will be completed quickly and that all MIT followers will be caught, so that Parigi Moutong and Poso can be completely safe from terrorist disturbances.”

MIT ‘getting weaker’

Provincial police chief Inspector General Abdul Rakhman Baso, who is commander of the anti-insurgency operation, said he hoped the remaining MIT militants could be arrested by the end of the year.

He said he was optimistic that the goal could be achieved with the support of all sections of society, including religious leaders, the local council and the government.

“With the size they are now – seven – they are getting weaker. We are confident they can be eliminated,” Rakhman told BenarNews.

Mohammad Affandi, a local terrorism researcher, said the police chief’s goal was unlikely to become a reality.

“It’s impossible for the remaining seven people to be caught in such a short time. It’s a pipe dream,” Affandi told BenarNews.

“The newly deployed troops definitely don’t know the terrain.”

The task force personnel are frequently rotated, Affandi said.

“They keep withdrawing personnel who have become familiar with terrain and deploy new personnel who don’t know the area. By doing so they keep extending the operation and it’s become endless,” he said.

Moh Taufiqurrohman, a researcher at the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies (PAKAR), said the death of MIT’s two foot soldiers would not significantly affect the group.

“MIT is hard to eradicate because they are in control of the area and continue to receive logistical and personnel support from Islamic State supporters from within and outside Poso,” he told BenarNews, referring to the regency that is the hotbed of the group’s activity. 

The group has survived in the mountains and jungles of Poso despite being hunted by police and military forces since 2015. In 2016, police killed Santoso, who was MIT’s leader and the first Indonesian militant to publicly pledge allegiance to IS.

MIT is one of two pro-IS groups operating in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country. The other is Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which authorities have blamed for terror attacks in the archipelago nation during the past five years.

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